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Disabled Woman Begins Legal Action Over Hampstead Ponds Fees

July 2, 2021

A woman who swims regularly in the Hampstead ponds is taking legal action against the City of London Corporation, claiming that the new charging regime discriminates against disabled people.

Christina Efthimiou, who is disabled and receives disability-related benefits, has swum at the ladies’ pond for four years. She is a member of the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), which is supporting her in seeking a judicial review against the Corporation.

Efthimiou, 59, says that access to the ponds is an essential part of managing disability for her and many others, and that the value of cold-water swimming for physical and mental health is widely recognised.

“The benefits to me are immense,” she said. “If I have to stop using the ponds for my regular exercise I don’t know what I will be able to do instead. I and many others will be priced out by the charges, which will change the ponds to a privilege for the better off.”

Mary Powell, vice-chair of the KLPA, said the ladies’ pond had historically provided a sanctuary for women and girls, including those with disabilities, victims of violence and abuse, and those from faith groups that demand modesty, but the new charging system was proving exclusionary for many people. While the legal case deals expressly with the disproportionate effects on disabled people, Powell said access had also been affected for other groups.Advertisement

“There are limitations to the free swims offered for over-60s before 9.30am, for example, particularly for elderly members or those with fluctuating health conditions who can’t get to the ponds that early or need to be accompanied,” she said. “The times also clash with when Oyster 60+ or freedom passes can be used, which cancels out the benefit of a free swim.”

Up until 2005 it was free to swim in the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds. Despite fierce opposition from the local community, the City of London Corporation (CoLC), which has run the world-famous ponds since 1989, implemented a charging regime, though this was self-policed, so people who couldn’t afford to pay still had access.

After a review in January last year, the CoLC introduced mandatory fees for the first time in the ponds’ history. The KLPA said this was in spite of strong support from the swimming associations for adopting a system where income could be increased without excluding anyone unable to pay.

But the Corporation opted for increased mandatory charges, which included a doubling of prices for adults and a 140% rise for concessions, which it insists was necessary to sustainably fund upkeep of the ponds.

In February 2021, the CoLC increased rates again. While non-concessionary rates were increased in line with inflation at 1.3%, the cost of a six-month pass for those eligible for concessions, including disabled people on benefits, was bumped by 21.5% to £40.11 and a 12-month pass by 15.1% to £75.97.

The CoLC’s refusal to allow for payment in instalments and make it easier to pay cash were further barriers for disadvantaged swimmers, Powell said.

In the legal case, Efthimiou argues that the new charging regime, which took effect on 1 April, disproportionately affects people with disabilities and that the City of London has breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments; has discriminated against her and other disabled people contrary to section 19 of the Equality Act; and has breached its duties under article 14 of the European convention on human rights read with article 8.

She’s asking the court to repeal the Corporation’s decision to implement the increased charges on the grounds that the regime amounts to unlawful discrimination in respect of disabled people.

Kate Egerton, a solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day, said: “In our view, the City of London has failed to engage with the impact its charging regime is having on disabled swimmers and to comply with its equality duties to disabled swimmers who rely on the ponds to manage their health.

“The current charging regime demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the financial position of those who survive on benefits and the significant physical and psychological benefits to disabled people of swimming at the ponds.”

A spokesperson for the CoLC said: “The Hampstead Heath charity offers a 40% swimming discount to disabled people, and a season ticket at the bathing ponds brings the cost of swimming down to as little as £1.46 per week.

“We subsidised swimming at the bathing ponds by nearly £600,000 in 2020/21 and we offer a comprehensive support scheme, including free morning swims for under-16s and over-60s. Concessions apply to disabled people and those in receipt of state benefits.

“Swimming charges are reinvested to ensure that affordable, safe and sustainable access to outdoor swimming is available to as many people as possible for generations to come.”

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